The Bulk House: Zeroing in on Zero Waste

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The Bulk House is the first zero-waste shop in the Chinese mainland. All of its goods are reusable. Except for the IKEA shelves, all the furniture in the shop was purchased from second-hand flea markets or donated by friends. The concept of zero waste can be seen in every detail.

Lining both sides of Gulou Avenue in Beijing are various boutique shops attracting tourists and local passersby alike. Among them, one small shop stands out, with a big green sign reading: “The Bulk House: Zero Waste, Package Free, Reusable, Natural.”

“What do you sell?” “Are all your products made of recycled materials?” “What does ‘zero waste’ mean?” These are among the questions that the shopkeepers hear most often. The owner and founder of Bulk House, Yu Yuan, a millennial from Wuhan in central China, is always happy to answer them as part of a mini “environmental protection campaign.”

“Zero waste is still a new and niche concept in the Chinese mainland,” Yu admits. “I hope my efforts will help more people get to know and embrace the idea.”

Achieving Zero Waste

In early 2016, a hurried residential move made Yu realize the importance of reducing her purchasing. She began to “do subtraction” in her daily life and pondered over the kind of life she really wanted. Six months later, she chanced upon some TED talk videos featuring Bea Johnson, founder of Zero Waste Home, and was greatly impressed by, as well as attracted to, the lifestyle.

“Her family of four produces just one glass jar of rubbish in an entire year!” Yu exclaims. “A brandnew lifestyle, zero waste saves time and money and makes the participants happier.”

Bea Johnson’s story inspired Yu to completely abandon her former lifestyle of heavy consumerism. Soon, Yu and her British boyfriend Joe Harvey began to try the zero-waste lifestyle and classify their garbage. Over the next three months, the couple managed to produce only two small glass jars of household waste.

“Only when you realize the will you reduce the production of garbage from the source,” says Yu.

On December 21, 2017, at an invitation from Yu, Bea Johnson hosted her very first sharing workshop in the Chinese mainland. “At first, I was afraid no one would come, but the tickets ended up selling out quickly, and we fit 140 in a venue that seated only 100,” recalls Yu. Conjuring up the scene remains exciting for her. “I was greatly encouraged. I decided that if so many people care about environmental protection, I have to keep going. I knew I wanted to open a zero-waste shop to pass the idea on to more people.”

Every Effort Counts

Though her storefront remains small, Bulk House attracts a large volume of customers. Some have become regulars, including foreigners, and others travel from other cities just to visit the shop.

The store’s shelves are filled with toothbrushes made of horsehair bristles and bamboo, straws and other tableware made of stainless steel, handmade soaps and essential oil made of plants, preservative film made of beeswax, cloth bags and net bags made of pure cotton, creative products made of recycled items and more. All of these goods are reusable and pollution-free. Bulk House also sells unpacked shampoo and washing powders made from Chinese honeylocust, which are sold by weight. Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers or bags.

Hanging next to the walls are unique and freshly renovated clothes, and an area is designated for CD and DVD exchange. At the entrance is a recycling station where people can drop off unneeded items or take whatever they need for free. Empty bottles and jars can also be sent to the shop for transport to recycling companies.

The only food or beverage served is Jane Goodall’s fair trade coffee. Fair trade means that workers are paid fair wages without exploitation or oppression. Other handmade goods in the shop are also certified fair trade. Yu hopes to help more people while contributing to a better environment.

In a corner of the shop stands a glass cylinder filled with plastic tape collected from packaging materials. “They have no recycling value and don’t biodegrade so we keep them in the cylinder,” Yu explains. “That is the real garbage.” To avoid contributing more to the collection, Yu uses biodegradable paper tape made from corn syrup that becomes sticky when wet.

In the shop, the concept of zero waste can be seen in every detail. “The pace of life is becoming faster and faster nowadays, and we need a pause to ponder over the importance of the environment,” Yu says. “Emerging problems such as smog caused by gas emissions and plastic pollution all make the situation worse. We have to change.”

“We are not just consumers,” she adds. “We should contribute to society. Every penny we spend should favor the social and ecological environment rather than worsen the current situation. I hope more people rethink the relationship between humans, society and nature. Human beings are both the producers of waste and its victims.”

More Motivation

Alongside running the store, Yu and Harvey regularly host secondhand flea markets and meetings to share their experience in environmental protection. Lacking abundant financial resources, they perform all the work by themselves and consider it “worth it no matter what it takes” because they are doing what they truly want.

Following their lead, more people are trying to use less plastic and embrace the zero-waste lifestyle.

“I hope to inspire a wide range of options and foster greater convenience for customers,” Yu declares. She remains positive about the future and plans to provide more food products and build a one-stop shopping platform. “We want to open more shops in other cities to help people understand the zero-waste lifestyle and provide easy access for advocates of environmental protection to try zero-waste products.”

Although other countries already have a handful of zerowaste shops, Yu wants to take her Bulk House abroad.

“Public awareness is crucial,” she concludes. “It arouses concern from people from all walks of life. I do what I can and hope everyone does what he or she can and mobilizes people around them. Many hands make light work. When we work together, we can make the world a better place.”

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